The Rohingya community living in the Cox’s Bazar camps seems to have been trapped in Satan’s trifecta. With dwindling funds and increasing violence in the camps, their camp life has become a living hell; on the other side of the borders, in Myanmar, there seems to be no hope of returning as the country is fighting its military dictators and the people who are trying to escape both these miseries and journey into a new life through the sea, are drowning in boats-leaving their loved ones in despair. The host country, Bangladesh, has placed all it has for the vulnerable refugees — but as the donor communities keep showing their backs, it’s getting nearly impossible for the developing country to make itself a safe haven for the Rohingya community while keeping its own national security in jeopardy.
Bangladesh has been hosting one million Rohingya since they fled Myanmar on foot to escape the 2017 military campaign launched against them-which has been recognized as genocide by many of the international community. Since then, there’s no doubt that the persecuted community has gotten a lot of attention, aid, and affinity from across the world, but with time, all of that has sounded more like lip service.
The poor, illiterate community and their plight are less bother as the donors of the international community now have refugees to take care of who look like them and have taken shelter in their posh European world. While they forget Rohingyas, conditions in the refugee camps are getting dire by the day. Education opportunities for the children are very limited-especially considering many of them have actually grown up in these camps in the last six years. Due to Bangladesh’s issues of climate change, the refugee camps face risks of major heat waves, floods, and tornados with nowhere to run.
The congested and unhygienic nature of the camp is a boon for diseases and has become a fire hazard too- last March, 12000 Rohingyas became homeless because of a sudden fire in the camps. If this wasn’t enough, the recent aid cut for the community has been like rubbing salt in the wound. Since the pandemic hit in 2020, international funding for basic necessities has been dropping as donor fatigue sets in. In 2023, the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis Joint Response Plan barely managed to gather 40 percent of the funds required.
The UN had to cut vital food assistance by one-third, from US $12 to $10 per person per month in March to $8 per person per month by June- meaning only $0.27 per day is allocated for each Rohingya. Shrinking budgets have forced the UN and international NGOs to lay off refugees from paid volunteer roles, which are one of their few legal sources of income.
As Bangladesh is already going through a crisis of food inflation, this cut will further add to the widespread malnutrition in the camps. Mothers are worried –how to reduce the portion of their children’s meals any further and for how long.
Such poverty and hopelessness, allied with the vicious cycle of violence in the camps, have further worsened the situation for the refugees.
The Rohingya community has been involved in various crimes, including kidnapping, drug peddling, illegal trading of counterfeit money, robbery, and gold smuggling- particularly young men – joining criminal gangs and armed groups, fueling the violence. They allegedly joined to get a monthly payment of BDT 5,000 (approximately 50 USD) for active participants.
Over the past six years, a total of 186 killings have occurred in the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh, along with more than 500 kidnappings. These can be linked to the criminal activities of different separatist groups like the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) and the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO). Locals reveal that these groups enter the camps every evening with arms while torturing and stealing from Rohingyas. The government-appointed Armed Police Battalion (APBn) raids become ineffective in deterring them as the groups take positions in different hideouts, hills, and forests and return at night once the operations end, continuing their havoc.
Since their arrival in Bangladesh- these insurgent groups set up their bases in the camps, but their increasing illegal activities have a deepening basis now; their antagonism towards repatriation efforts, the mighty drug and arms trade in Rohingya camps with terrorist connections, and establishing superiority in the camps.
To escape this violence and for a better life, many head eastward by sea – to Muslim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. The U.N. says it tracked a 360% spike last year in the number of Rohingya risking their lives on these dangerous boat journeys–from 700 to 3,500. These people choose the risk of being detained, trafficked, seasick, hungry, and lost in the sea with no hopes of being rescued or even drowning than to live off charity in the refugee camps anymore.
With skyrocketing crime rates, public murders, panic, and fear are also rising in the Southern region of Bangladesh. Host versus the Rohingyas tension is on the rise. Local residents of Cox’s Bazar are considering that their safety is at risk as the vast number of Rohingyas in the district has made the locals a minority.
Bangladesh authorities have tried their utmost to address all these issues to the best of their ability. The camps have transitioned from scorched earth to paved ways like cities. To increase the security of both the locals and the refugees, barbed wire fences and security forces have been placed. 100,000 refugees have also been relocated to Bhasan Char camps to deal with the severe overcrowding in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. The country has already spent 1.69 billion US in 2022 alone to support Rohingya refugees. What more should be expected of it at this point?
While Bangladesh struggles, the perpetrator of the whole tragedy, Myanmar keeps beating around the bush about Rohingya refugees and their citizenship. Still, Bangladesh is trying to adhere to the principle of nonrefoulement — not returning refugees to a place where they would face persecution. But the international community, instead of taking strict political and legal actions against the brutal Junta regime, is busy showering it with FDI- foreign direct investment of Myanmar from 2017 to 2020 was greater than that of Bangladesh.
Besides, they are trying to pressure Bangladesh authorities devoid of protection or justice for Rohingyas. Recently, Amy Sood, a reporter for South China Morning Post (SCMP), claimed that Rohingyas are facing a “second genocide” in Bangladesh, which is falsified and misleading because it sounds like Bangladesh is targeting and killing Rohingyas.
Another year is passing — Bangladesh celebrates its biggest festival, Durga Puja, and the world is busy with the Ukraine and Palestine war, but Rohingyas stand still in a state of limbo with anger, hurt, suffering, and despair. Every night, they have to think this night might become the last of their lives. We cannot forget, and neither can the international community. The pledge to protect human rights above all should be reminded to the world humanitarian services, and a political solution to the resettlement of the Rohingyas must be encouraged.
[Photo by Tasnim News Agency, via Wikimedia Commons]
*Sadia Aktar Korobi is a master’s student of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.